Note to harassers: It's not what she wears that needs to change.
Jogging is my favorite activity during the spring. When the weather is nice I put on my sweatshirt, Nike shorts, and sneakers to run in Rahman Park.
One day while I was walking and enjoying my time at the park, I saw two men jogging. They were wearing regular T-shirts with long pants so as not to show their legs. They were dressed very decently I must admit, but I really could not help but check them out as they ran around the park. They passed by a group of women who suddenly started to whistle and make comments. Those poor men felt so shy and quickly left the park. Yes, in my society men are not allowed to work out or take a walk in the park like women.
Men have enough freedom to go shopping and sit in cafés, but they have to be bold to withstand the stares of women smoking sheesha who blow the smoke over to their side to make them feel uncomfortable and drive them out of the café.
I hope, one day, women will stop beeping their car horns when they see a man crossing the street. I also hope that women will stop getting offended whenever a man tries to pass them in the car. He is only rushing to his work; he’s not trying to prove he is stronger behind the wheel.
If you are a man living in Iraq or Kurdistan, regardless of your outfit, you have to worry about the comments women make about your body. Regardless of the car you are driving, there is always a woman racing you, passing your car on the right side, or even following you down to where you live or work.
If you are a man living in Iraq or Kurdistan trying to have a career, you need to think twice because working men are often judged to have too much freedom. You also have to worry about the possible harassment you may face at work.
If you are reading this, and especially if you are a man, I hope you are imagining what it is like to live as a woman in my society. Of course in Iraq it is women and not men who face restrictions on their freedom. It may sound funny to switch parts, but it saddens my heart that women continue to face harassment despite all the development around us.
My mother used to tell my brother to think of how his sister would feel before saying anything to a woman. I am not going to ask men to think of their sisters or mothers. Instead, I want them to imagine living like a woman and worrying about every single move they make.
I am surrounded by amazing men who are respectful and kind and add so much to my life. I do not want to generalize; however, there are many men who need to imagine our lives and really understand the challenges we face.
I have searched the Internet trying to learn techniques to avoid harassment in my life. But no matter what I do, there is always that dude who thinks it is okay to embarrass his female colleague at work. There is always that man who will find a woman to harass in the street.
Although many men put the blame on women and how they dress, most of the harassment cases I witness have nothing to do with a woman’s style. As a woman, I am not asking to wear short outfits to work under the name of freedom. I am not asking to be able to say anything and insult anyone under the name of free opinion. I just want to feel comfortable being a woman.
The solution is not for women to stop doing what we do. The solution is that we make our communities places that accept us for being ourselves. The solution is not to ignore the harassment, but to take action. The solution is not to stop going to work, but to make our workplaces spaces where we can be comfortable.
I have been looking for laws on harassment in the Iraqi constitution. Unfortunately, I can’t find a law that gives a woman the right to report harassment. The government should impose rules against harassment as other countries have done—including countries in our region, like Egypt.
Women are not just unable to report harassment in Iraq, but they are often the ones blamed or criticized when they try to defend themselves. Women should be able to report harassers easily, by calling or texting a number, and the government should fine harassers according to the severity of the harassment.
Companies also need stricter policies. It is not enough to have a written policy that bans harassment in the work place. They also need to implement those policies by warning or terminating harassers. The media can also play a vital role in changing the situation. Condemning harassment on TV and in newspapers can help more people realize the size of the issue.
The fastest solution though, is for those who harass women to stop. If you are a man who has ever sought to restrict a woman’s activity, try accepting her as she is: a human being. Is it what she wears that makes you harass her? Or is it what you feel watching her being herself?
Shahdis a World PulseVoices of Our FutureCorrespondent from Iraq who has a fire inside of her. It took some time before she realized she could transform her anger into positive energy to change her country. Her nation has suffered years of war and Shahd has witnessed death, rape, kidnappings, and childhood innocence violated; she has experienced relocation and powerlessness. She has found solace in the Internet, where she can connect and learn about ways she can empower young women to find their voices and stand up for their rights.